US biodiesel looking to get into pipeline

09 February 2010 20:49  [Source: ICIS news]

GRAPEVINE, Texas (ICIS news)--The US biodiesel industry's share of US pipeline through-put will swell, but the quality of the renewable fuel will have to improve if it wants an even bigger slice of the pipeline pie, sources said on Tuesday.

Rob Woodford of Explorer Pipeline said with the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)  calling for 1bn gal/year of biodiesel in the US by 2012, he expects to see a B5 blend (5% biodiesel, 95% traditional diesel) entering the US pipeline system. The only question is for how long it will move in a system segregated from other products, a process that is less efficient than integrated shipping. 

"This is a significant deal," Woodford said at the 2010 National Biodiesel Conference. "At those levels, refiners want to use pipelines. It would be a 20 cents/gal savings versus truck distribution."

Most US biodiesel is transported via rail or truck and then blended at terminals. 

The biggest stumbling blocks for biodiesel refiners who want their fuel to run in integrated US pipelines will be consistency of the fuel's quality. Without confidence that the pipeline will carry biodiesel of standardised quality, or timely fuel testing procedures for it, other pipeline customers are protesting any possible mingling of their products with the renewable fuel. 

One of the biggest pushes against integrating biodiesel in pipelines comes from the aviation industry, said Steve Anderson with BP Air, a segment of the British petroleum giant.

Aviation original engineering manufacturers (OEMs) such as Boeing, Airbus and General Electric are loath to approve levels of current-quality tallow-based biodiesel, or fatty acid methyl ester (FAME), at more than 5 parts per million (ppm) in pipelines, saying any more FAME contamination of jet fuel would cause havoc with their aircraft engines.  

FAME congeals at higher temperatures than other fuels, making it problematic for aircraft flying at high altitudes. Anderson spoke of a case of fuel containing 9.5 ppm FAME arriving at an international airport via barge, causing all fuelling to stop and planes to remain grounded until the fuel could be removed and diluted. 

"We came close to shutting Heathrow Airport down," Anderson said. 

Tests conducted by the National Biodiesel Board and the Pipeline Group industry consortium found that jet fuel containing 100 ppm did not cause performance problems in aircraft, but OEMs were still hesitant to approve anything above current limits, Anderson said.

ASTM International, the organisation tasked with setting standards for the country's OEMs, was still researching safe FAME trail back amounts, he said.

Anderson cajoled biodiesel makers and engineers to work with the OEMs to approve at least 100 ppm as a safe level of biodiesel in pipelines. 

"If you want to see biodiesel really take a foothold, we need 100 ppm approval," he said. "We can have the [EPA] mandate going forward, we can put the product into pipelines, but we'll have problems in the airports. I guarantee it." 

David Blatnik at Marathon Petroleum, the largest petroleum refiner in the US midwest, said his company looked forward to shipping more biodiesel via pipeline, as a higher through-put would help justify the $1m-2m (€730,000-1.46m) infrastructure investment his company made to ensure their system could handle the renewable fuel. 

But for biodiesel refiners to feel truly at home in the country's pipeline system, more of them will have ensure their fuel meets the biodiesel fuel-quality standards dictated in 2009 by ASTM, Blatnik said.

"ASTM is the ticket to the game," Blatnik said.

($1 = €0.73)

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By: Ben Lefebvre
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